Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who: Star Tales

(2019) Trevor Baxendale et al, BBC Books, £12.99 / Can$27.99 / US$16.99, hrdbk, 244pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94471-0


To celebrate the return of Doctor Who in 2020, BBC Books is publishing this unique collection of name-dropping historical adventures inspired by Jodie Whittaker's first season.  All the stories are new and characters feature: Audrey Hepburn, Elvis Presley, Harry Houdini, Amelia Earhart, Albert Einstein and Pythagoras – the latter gave the Doctor her sunglasses.  Authors include Jenny T. Colgan, Jo Cotterill and Mike Tucker.

It is inevitable if you travel through time space that you are going to encounter a few famous people from Earth’s history.  Certainly that’s been a feature of Doctor Who since its return when Christopher Eccleston bumped into Charles Dickens, and Peter Tennant bumped into Queen Victoria, Agatha Christie and Adolf Hitler, among others.  As I write this, the Doctor is back on our screens and she’s already met the likes of Rosa Parks, King James 1, Thomas Edison and Nicholas Tesla and Lord Byron and Mary Shelley and many other famous people on her travels.  One thing that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is, is a name-dropper and the 2018, series 11, had several famous people being mentioned in the passing, but did the Doctor actually meet them?  Well, now we have six longish short stories that tell the truth.

It is also inevitable that with a short story collection some stories, in the opinion of the reader, or reviewer, are going to be better than others – no fault of the writing, which is uniformly good – it comes down to how the writer handled the subject matter.  We are in safe hands right from the start with the tale “Chasing the Dawn”, written by old-Who-hand, Jenny T. Colgan (the T in her name standing for TARDIS, so I’ve heard). This story actually concerns the 11th Doctor meeting Amelia Earhart with the 13th Doctor telling the story to Yaz.  Other celebrities to appear are evident from the name of the story, therefore no prizes for guessing who the Doctor is meeting in “Einstein and the Doctor” and “Who-Dini”, the latter being a romp of a story by Steve Cole.  If there is a common theme throughout the tales then it’s about the celebrity having an alien encounter (and not just with the Doctor) or being involved, sometimes unwittingly in an alien plot.  Perhaps, it is the demographic of the TV show’s viewers or those who read the books, but apart from Pythagoras – who gave the Doctor her sunglasses – and possibly Amelia Earhart, and Harry Houdini, the celebrities are very twentieth century-centric, given that we meet the world’s most famous scientist, the King of Rock and Roll and a legendary movie star.  Perhaps, the BBC will bring out another book, but feature all of the Doctor’s and spread their adventures throughout history.

Two of the stories – “The Pythagoras Problem” by Trevor Baxendale and “Mission of the KaaDak” by Mike Tucker are connected – what’s the connection? No spoilers here; while in my opinion the best of the stories is Paul Magrs’ “That’s All Right, Mama” where several versions of the Doctor encounter Elvis Presley at various stages of his career in a bittersweet tale that would bring a tear to the eye of the most-hardened Cyberman (well, maybe not).

Star Tales is pretty light, but great fun, and obviously an essential purchase for all Who fans wherever they are in the space-time continuum.

Ian Hunter


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